Posts Tagged ‘transparency’

Education funds not being spent wisely

The op-ed below by Justin Owen, Benjamin Clark, and Alexandria Gilbert outlines the findings of Beacon’s new education spending study. This article originally appeared in Wednesday’s Tennessean. A similar article appeared in Sundays’ Knoxville News Sentinel (subscription required).

by Justin Owen, Benjamin Clark, and Alexandria Gilbert

These days, virtually every discussion about public education in Tennessee fixates on issues of funding. Tennesseans are continuously told that their schools are among the worst funded in the country and that all that is necessary to fix failing schools is to pour more money into them.

In a new Beacon Center of Tennessee report, we decided to look more deeply into this issue. First, we analyzed how much taxpayers actually spend on education in Tennessee. Second, we tracked where that money goes, and finally we sought to determine whether there is any correlation between spending and student achievement.

Surprisingly, our study found that not only do we already spend a significant amount on public education, the total cost of education is underreported by about 11 percent statewide. Metro Nashville takes the underreporting prize, spending a full 27 percent more than reported. More accurate figures show the district spends more than $14,000 per child, per year.

And where that money goes is troubling. Of the total amount spent statewide, barely half goes toward instructional expenditures such as teacher salaries, textbooks, supplies, etc. In Metro Nashville, an appalling 44 cents of every dollar goes directly to the classroom. This is significantly less than the minimum standard of 60 percent that should be allocated to instructional spending, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Where does the rest of that money go? Administrative expenses eat up a growing chunk of education dollars. Between 2000 and 2012, administrative expenses per pupil rose from $450 to $793. Even worse, Metro Nashville officials have nearly doubled the amount they spend on administrative expenditures per pupil.

Much of this represents a substantial rise in the number of administrative personnel. Since 2000, the number of administrators statewide has grown by nearly 35 percent. During the same time period, teacher personnel has increased by less than 17 percent, while the change in the number of students was a mere 7 percent. Not only has the number of administrators risen more dramatically than teachers and students, their salaries have outpaced teacher salaries as well.

Unfortunately, this focus on administrative growth has failed to lead to results. By conducting in-state and state-versus-state comparisons, we could find no measurable correlation between spending and student performance, primarily failing to find a link between this newfound administrative spending and academic growth.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, many school districts spent less yet outperformed their similarly situated counterparts. This lack of correlation between spending and outcomes should spark a deeper debate about real reforms.

There is much opportunity for reforms such as empowering parents through school choice, paying teachers better and rewarding them based on merit, encouraging business and community leaders to enter the teaching profession.

Simply throwing more money at the problem is not the answer. Instead of spending more on public education, school districts should spend education funds more wisely. Only then can we expect to provide our students with the quality education they deserve.

Justin Owen is president and CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee. Benjamin Clark and Alexandria Gilbert are research associates at the Beacon Center and co-authors of “Following the Money: A Tennessee Education Spending Primer.”

September 4th, 2013 | Commentary

Following the Money: A Tennessee Education Spending Primer

Following the Money: A Tennessee Education Spending Primer

Beacon Center report analyzes how many tax dollars go into the classroom

NASHVILLE – A new study released today analyzes taxpayer spending on public education in Tennessee. In the study, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the state’s premier free market policy organization, looked at the amount taxpayers actually spend on education versus what is reported, where that money goes, and whether more funding equals better results.

The first of its kind in Tennessee, the report titled “Following the Money: A Tennessee Education Spending Primer,” reached some troubling conclusions. First, the amount that taxpayers already spend on public education is significantly underreported. While the average stated amount spent per pupil is $9,123 per year, the true figure is about 11 percent more than reported, or $10,088 per student.

Of that funding, less than 54 percent is directed at classroom instruction, such as teacher salaries, textbooks, and other instructional spending. And that figure is in constant decline, whereas administrative spending is on the upswing. Since 2000, the number of administrators in Tennessee’s education system has grown by 34.5 percent, while the number of teachers has increased by less than 17 percent, and the number of students has grown by just seven percent.

Administrators’ salaries have also outpaced those of teachers during that time period. In fact, when factoring for inflation, teachers make less money today than they did in 2000.

“Not only have taxpayers been misinformed about how much we spend on education, there has been a growing trend of adding administrative personnel, redirecting funding away from the classroom,” said Beacon Center CEO Justin Owen.

Finally, after comparing similarly situated school districts within the state, while also comparing Tennessee to other states, the report found no measurable correlation between spending and student performance.

“Ultimately, more spending does not equal better results,” said Owen. “Rather than allocate more money, especially on administrative personnel, public school districts should focus on spending education funds more wisely. Only then can Tennessee expect to provide its students with the quality education they deserve.”

The full report can be found at http://www.beacontn.org/wp-content/uploads/Following-the-Money.pdf.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee’s mission is to change lives through public policy by advancing the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government.

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August 19th, 2013 | Feature, Policy

Cronyism: A Tennessee Love Story

Beacon CEO Justin Owen pens a guest article at the new blog, Tennessee Brush Fires, about the pitfalls of corporate welfare. Here’s an excerpt.

Since 2005, Tennessee governments have handed over $1.75 billion in the form of tax credits and cash grants to large companies. And the vast majority of it has gone to just seven large corporations. Talk about a lopsided playing field.

The worst part of this corporate welfare scheme—taking from some and giving to others—is what could be done instead. Take for example the case of Hemlock Semiconductor, which received massive subsidies to locate a plant in Clarksville as part of the solar panel supply chain. Just a few months ago, the company announced that it was laying off its Tennessee workforce and ending construction on the unopened plant. Despite the company’s utter failure to live up to its promises, taxpayers will lose $90 million on the deal.

The $90 million lost on Hemlock could have gone to cut the business tax for all Tennessee businesses by almost one-half percent. That’s a tax cut for 170,000 different businesses, from the largest corporation to the mom and pop shop down the road.

Head over to Tennessee Brush Fires for the full piece.

August 2nd, 2013 | Commentary